Make a home for affordable housing in Chevy Chase DC

Make a home for affordable housing in Chevy Chase DC  Greater Greater Washington

Make a home for affordable housing in Chevy Chase DC

Chevy Chase Neighborhood Planning and the Importance of Affordable Housing

Closeup of Chevy Chase DC community center via Google Street View


The District’s Chevy Chase neighborhood is currently the subject of intensive planning and discussion among residents, local business owners, and the District government. Of concern is the upper Connecticut Avenue corridor and in particular, the future civic core, the public land that is, right now, occupied by the Chevy Chase library and community center. Tempers are flaring, recriminations are flying, and the deteriorating civic discourse threatens the entire project.

The Opportunity for an Inclusive Vision

As clergy in the Rock Creek West planning area, each with congregations that are members of the Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), we are concerned that the tenor of the debate is distracting from a rare opportunity to create, together, an updated, welcoming vision of our neighborhood and an inclusive, forward-thinking heart for Chevy Chase. Inclusion of affordable housing in the redevelopment of the civic core would show that we are serious about breaking from an exclusionary past, as already recognized in the work of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3/4G and its task force on racism when it considered adoption of the Chevy Chase small area plan.

Affordable Housing Goals for the Civic Core

As envisioned in the small area plan—vetted by the ANC and residents and approved by the DC Council in 2022—the civic core is slated to be the home of a new library and community center, as well as affordable housing. In October 2022, WIN partnered with Ward3Vision and the Coalition for Smarter Growth to propose affordable-housing goals for the civic core site. They were:

  • The creation of 100 new homes at the site, in addition to new library and community center facilities; and
  • That those 100 homes be available to those with incomes between 30 percent and 80 percent of median family income (roughly $30,000 to $140,000).

Of course, the exact number of units will depend on their size and the number available for families, as well as financing, architectural, and site use considerations. Nonetheless, based on our conversations with experienced land use planners, we believe this vision is achievable.

Addressing Concerns about Green Space and Housing

While we also value green space, we can still build housing on the site – for teachers, retail workers, first responders, and others whose work and presence enhance our lives. Suggesting that housing can only be built by sacrificing green space or by building to heights that are out of scale with Connecticut Avenue are false dichotomies.

Some have argued that affordable housing can be developed elsewhere, either as a matter of right or under the planned unit development process. But the math makes the civic core site a more attractive opportunity. Because the District owns the site, the cost of developing affordable housing here will likely be less than it would be on a site that is privately owned and needs to be purchased before housing is built on it. The land does not have to be purchased from a private owner, development costs are lower, and at a minimum, public lands used for homes must include at least 30 percent affordable housing.

Restrictive Covenants and the Need for Change

The recent discovery of a covenant that prohibits the construction of multi-family housing of any size on the back portion of the civic core site is troubling, and calls up memory and reflection. The covenant dates back to 1909 when the Chevy Chase Land Company deeded the parcel to the District in order to build a school. Then, the District’s schools were segregated by race, and single-family homes on nearby streets were subject to racially restrictive covenants.

While the covenant on the civic core does not explicitly refer to race, its longstanding effect has been to contribute to racial and economic exclusivity. At the civic core site, it would constrain architects and builders, limiting the number of units and by extension, the number of units that are affordable. Honoring it and other such covenants would limit a rare opportunity to foster more economic and racial diversity in Ward 3.

Advocating for Change

Century-old restrictive covenants should not take precedent over contemporary visions and priorities. We urge the DC Council to pass legislation introduced by Ward 3 Councilmember Matthew Frumin to remove this and similar covenants so that decisions about planning and development are made consistent with a contemporary and inclusive vision of community life. A hearing for Councilmember Frumin’s three bills, the “Addressing Legacies of Housing Segregation in Chevy Chase Amendment Act of 2023,” the “Addressing Legacies of Housing Segregation in Rock Creek West Amendment Act of 2023,” and the “Releasing Restrictive Covenants in Deeds Act of 2023,” will be held on Fri., December 8, 2023.


Our religious traditions carry compelling messages about obligations to our community and to addressing inequality: We must pursue justice, house the unhoused, welcome the stranger into our midst, treat others as we wish to be treated, and see the divine image in each human being. Along with these obligations come messages of joy and affirmation: There is no limit to the good we can do together as long as we remain open to the possibilities of creation—of new ideas, new settings, and new neighbors. Allowing multifamily housing to be built on the Chevy Chase civic core site is an immediately present opportunity to maximize the potential for affordable housing and make Ward 3 more welcoming and equitable.

May we as residents of the nation’s capital, and specifically Rock Creek West, remove outdated barriers to progress and turn our hearts and minds to creating new homes and new economic security for more people in our city. May we co-create precisely the kind of beautiful community that the authors of the century-old restrictive covenants so greatly feared. And may we conduct these conversations with dignity and grace, as neighbors in sacred covenant with one another.


Join us, as fellow seekers of change, on a transformative journey at, where you can become a member and actively contribute to shaping a brighter future.